European Pilgrimage – Day 3, On the Strasbourg road – Thoughts from a Journey

This blog post is by Phil Kerton.

A six-hour journey, providing opportunities to snooze after absorbing many facts in Brussels. Every month, MEPs and their staff pack up all their papers in Brussels so that they can be transported by truck to Strasbourg for a week of business there. (Well, actually, more like Tuesday to Thursday.) The members and their attendant media circus follow on by plane or high-speed train.

Why all this expense and disruption? Is it really just a sweetener for France? Perhaps partly, but the more fundamental obstacle to change, we learned, is that the founding treaty of the EU specifies that plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg. A new treaty would have to be agreed and ratified by all member states to make any change – and establishing new treaties is both time consuming and expensive and the process usually ends up by gathering clauses related to other matters to gain support!

And as a consequence of leaving the EU, a nation’s diplomatic mission to the Parliament will its right to office space in the parliamentary buildings, an added aggravation to the process of keeping tabs on developments with no MEPs available to assist.

Rain set in as we left Brussels and headed across the Walloon region to travel through the Ardennes into Luxembourg. And we realised that on Tuesday we had heard the answer to the question, “Why can the Walloon parliament hold up ratification of treaties?” It’s another result of respecting national democracies and putting subsidiarity into practice. Belgium’s constitution requires each of its elected parliamentary bodies to approve such measures, and this procedure is respected by the EU.

Travelling South, the rain intensified, but remarkable ceased as we arrived at our apartment hotel. Consequently, the more adventurous pilgrims could walk the city streets and lanes to find its impressive cathedral and be uplifted by vision of its builders for the glory of God. In cutting across from a shopping mall to a river bridge, we found ourselves beside to site once occupied by an important synagogue, burned to the ground during WWII, while the Vichy government acted for the occupying German forces. The UK population does not spend its daily life next to reminders of such recent inhumanity. Perhaps this is why the merits and demerits of EU membership are debated almost entirely on economic considerations, with no space given to matters of international solidarity and burden sharing and to the remarkable absence of armed conflict in Western Europe for the past 70 years?